the reason why your house never gets clean It would be nice if you could declare your home totally and completely clean, if there was ever a moment where you could sit down and say, “I am caught up with all the household chores.” Kudos to you if you’ve had that moment, but most of us mere mortals never seem able to get the house cleaning done. New research shows it’s not because we’re too tired or too busy or because our kids are, well, kids. The answers to why your house never gets clean lie elsewhere.

Ask Toyota

Yes, the first stop on our journey to understanding our cleaning productivity (or lack thereof) is the car manufacturer Toyota. While writing his book Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business, Charles Duhigg interviewed representatives from “exceptionally productive” companies. At Toyota, he learned about the philosophy of the 5 Whys and the Toyota Production System, the idea that even the most complex problems have simple answers. Duhigg applied Toyota’s philosophy to his own life to solve a problem many busy parents will understand: rarely getting to eat dinner with his children:

For us, ‘the Five Whys’ worked in a fairly straightforward manner. We began by identifying a problem: We never managed to have family dinner. Then we explored, at the most surface level, why that was true: Because my wife and I always got home later than we expected.

Then came another question: Why were we getting home so late? The answer was that, although we intended to leave the office by 5, we often found it impossible to walk away from our desks because there were so many miscellaneous tasks we had ignored during the day.

That prompted the third question: Why had we ignored all those tasks? Well, inevitably, we arrived at work each morning just as our first meetings were starting, and so rather than deal with unread memos and emails, we put them aside until later in the day – and then, when we finally got to them, there were new memos and emails that demanded our attention.

The fourth question: Why were we arriving at work right before our first meetings, rather than earlier in the day? Because although we always intended to leave the house at 8 and get the kids to school, we usually ran late, and didn’t get out the door until 8:20 or so.

And, finally, why were we leaving the house later than we planned? Because it took so long to get the kids dressed in the morning that we always left later than we expected.

What This Means for Why Your House Never Gets Clean

Duhigg figured out how to get to have dinner with his kids was to have them pick out the outfits they would wear to school the night before. That meant faster mornings, arriving to work on time, leaving on time, and family dinner!

Let’s make up an example that shows how this could work when it comes to cleaning:

  • Problem: your dishes never get washed until they’re needed again the next night.
  • Why? Because after eating dinner, you watch an hour of TV to wind down and relax.
  • Why don’t you clean them after watching TV? Because by then it’s 10:00 pm and you have to go to bed in order to get enough sleep.
  • Why don’t you have dinner earlier? Because you always have to go to the grocery store to pick up ingredients after work.
  • Solution: buying a week’s worth of groceries at a time, or even using one of the many online grocery delivery services, might help you have time to clean your dishes after dinner and watching TV

Like we said, this is just an example we made up. The reasons why you never seem able to get your cleaning done are unique to you and your life. By now, you’ve probably figured out we’re not going to give you a pithy list of tips that shouts things like “get organized!” or “make a list!” We’re just offering a new way you can look at the deeper causes behind your lack of cleaning productivity. Once you find the root causes, you can take action to fix them. It just might work.

Read Charles Duhigg’s article in the New York Times here.